Thanks to an invite from IBM to attend their ECM UserNet Event in New York City this week, between catching several presentations and schmoozing with vendor event sponsors, I was afforded the opportunity to talk with several aspiring ECM users and ECM veterans about their implementation motivations, plans and experiences.
The attendees were mostly IT, Litigation Support and Records Management professionals who confirmed what a few industry analysts, including me, have been saying for a while: Organizational challenges continue to thwart adoption of ECM technologies.
ECM Technology Ahead of the Adoption Curve
IBM has developed some very cool technology that has significantly enhanced its enterprise content management (ECM) suite of products including:
- Natural Language Processing (NLP) similar to what can be found in Watson.
- Advanced Case Management, which can be adopted to several industries including Healthcare, Banking, Insurance and Legal.
- IBM Content Analytics, a marriage between a product that IBM Research invented called TAKMI (Text Analysis and Knowledge Mining system) and their OmniFind Enterprise Edition search product.
However, based on my informal poll, I could not find a single user at the event who has deployed or is in the process of deploying any of these solutions. (Early adopters were less likely to be in attendance) Some of these users were from multi-national corporations with multi-million dollar investments in their ECM implementations. Several were non-profits. A couple said these solutions were on their roadmap.
In addition, IBM has recently acquired some cool technology:
- PSS Systems to enable information lifecycle governance across IT, Legal and Records Management departments.
- Datacap, which captures, extracts and classifies data from physical records and other unstructured sources, such as image files or spreadsheets, and allows users to apply rules and policies within its workflow by de-coupling the process steps.
PSS has had success with implementations at many very large, complex organizations such as banks, manufacturing and pharmaceutical companies. Meanwhile, interest in Datacap has picked up significantly since the acquisition last year. The Datacap “Hands-on Lab” at this event was filled to capacity.
Barriers to Adoption
The biggest barriers to new technology adoption within an organization are poor communication amongst stakeholders, internal politics, lack of a plan and the inability to articulate a clear value proposition or return on investment (ROI). Usually, it’s a combination of the above.
Many users have difficulty answering basic questions about their content environment such as:
- How big is our content problem and how fast is it growing?
- Who is responsible for our Information Governance policy?
- What should our retention policy be?
- What is our legal hold policy and is it effective?
- Where is our content and what do we have?
- When and how should we decommission content?
- What opportunities are there for our organization to use this content?
Despite mounds of quantitative and qualitative data that show exponential, unsustainable storage growth; a stricter regulatory environment on the horizon; and increased risk of adverse litigation judgments as well as higher costs, a myriad of surveys indicate that perhaps only 1/4 of organizations are confident they have the problem under control—and that may be optimistic.
IM vendors in general tend to lean more on the merits and promise of their cool technologies while de-emphasizing the upfront time and effort necessary for clients to adopt new solutions. (Vendors are transaction oriented for good reason; they want to sell stuff.) Early adoptors get it. They have a plan and processes in place so they can answer most if not all the questions above. It’s the other 75% to 80% of potential ECM technology buyers that need help.
Speeding Up the Adoption Curve
If bombarding users and buyers with fear, uncertainty and doubt (the FUD factor) is not working to get the majority of organizations moving, perhaps it’s time for ECM vendors and service providers to focus less on the problem and more on the opportunities.
To quote a 1992 Harvard Business Review article by management guru Peter Drucker, entitled, The New Society of Organizations: “The modern organization must be organized for the systematic abandonment of whatever is established, customary, familiar and comfortable, whether that is a product, service, or process; a set of skills, human and social relationships; or the organization itself. In short, it must be organized for constant change.”
ECM solutions and the cool technologies that are available today are enablers of change, but the organization is what has to change first. Interestingly, most of the aspirational users at the event I spoke with were from city agencies, charities and other non-for-profit organizations—a segment of the population to which Drucker devoted most of his expertise and time in his latter years starting in the late 1980s.
Non-profits generally do not have the resources to hirer management consultants nor can they attract the top IT innovators like Wall Street firms can. This would also be the case for many small- to medium-sized companies who need similar support.
Need to Focus On the Organization
It may sound somewhat counter-intuitive to tell technology vendors they need to be less technology focused but in the case of information management (IM) solutions, it’s absolutely essential. IM and Information Governance solutions are still maturing—and much faster than organizational models themselves.
Most users are overwhelmed with the prospect of unsustainable growth of unstructured content in the form of documents, images, emails, social media and other forms of messaging. Many feel they are too busy just maintaining systems or running for cover from management and business users who are demanding more productivity with fewer resources to take advantage of new technologies.
I have been to many ECM and IM vendor events—not just IBM’s—that are notable for their lack of organizational workshops to help users with limited resources answer the 7 questions above and prepare an IM plan for their organization.
For instance, the Watson video is great and the additional Watson breakout sessions were informative. I’ve seen the video several times now, I watched the Jeopardy! challenge and I played Watson online—which anyone can do. (It let me go first so I won). But how many of the 200 or so user attendees returned to work thinking, “How can I use Watson in my organization now?”
Conversely, the Datacap hands-on lab demonstrated a clear value proposition. However, while it solves one large problem organizations have—managing physical or paper documents—if not implemented as part of an overarching IM strategy, it will exacerbate the ESI or electronically stored information problem.
The best breakout session I attended was a presentation and demo from a Top 10 North American bank on how they have extended their IBM ECM with widgets and other neat technology to create a “common, activity-centric collaboration workspace” for its mortgage business analysts that pulls together information from multiple sources to help them arrive at an approval or rejection decision much more quickly.
The presenter, a Senior IT architect for the bank, explained how they used a “model-driven development” approach—actually designing the workflow, building a working prototype and creating a solution on the fly with the business users. He was quick to add that the business process was “asynchronous” and therefore not dependent on near-real-time response to manage any individual case.
This is a good thing because data federated from as many as a dozen separate repositories or sources is needed to complete a case including a customer’s bank accounts, credit history and outstanding loans and that takes “more than a few seconds.” By the way, the bank is not using Watson, Advanced Case Management (ACM) or Content Analytics for this application, but claims they have plans to implement ACM “sometime in the future.”
Despite the long held view by many IM vendors and solution providers that strategy slows sales and that cool technology can overcome resistance to change, it is a lack of a definitive strategy and the inability of an organization to change its point of view that are the biggest impediments to new technology adoption.
Dazzling technology, case studies, best practices, customer references, mounds of data, FUD and industry analyst recommendations are evidently not enough to empower aspirational ECM buyers to move forward on new projects. Most organizations need help justifying new technology purchases and presenting a cogent business case to their upper management. They need help developing a plan tailored for their organization and need help doing it with limited resources.
IBM and other vendors have the means to provide their customers and prospects with this help. Vendors can and should provide tools, frameworks and workshops to assist aspirational users in developing strong arguments for adopting ECM and other IM solutions that will provide the technology means to drive positive, transformational change within their organizations.